The vitamin D window has closed

Me in the Snow
Me in the snow. Photo by Jackie Brewer.

Seven or eight years ago, I became aware of research that suggested that vitamin D deficiencies were a possible cause of seasonal depression. As I have long suffered (albeit mildly) from SAD, I figured it was worth trying a vitamin D supplement, and it did seem to help.

I worry just a bit about taking a supplement, because there are dangers with excessive doses of vitamin D. (A random site on the web suggests that doses over about 10,000 IU per day are dangerous, if continued for a period of months.)

So, I prefer to get my vitamin D via sunlight. A pale-skinned person like me can make upwards of 10,000 IU of vitamin D in just a few minutes of mid-day summer sun—but there’s no danger of getting an overdose: your skin keeps making it as long as you’re in the sun, but once saturated with an optimal amount, it starts un-making it as fast as it makes it.

But it’s the UVB light in the sun that makes the vitamin D, and at my latitude (I live at almost exactly 40° north), little or no UVB gets through the atmosphere during the winter. Specifically, the vitamin D window closed this year on November 20th. It’ll open again on January 20th—although of course it’ll be too cold to expose much skin to the sun for a month or two after that.

This past summer, I spent more time in the sun than in years past, and found that it made me feel especially good—like the opposite of seasonal depression. I imagine it’s the extra vitamin D, although I don’t see any way to tweeze evidence for that hypothesis out from the many other possible reasons. Perhaps it was just more bright light (as opposed to the UVB in particular)—surely the sun is the world’s best light box. Perhaps it was just being more active (I tend to get my sun walking or running, not sitting or lying in the sun). Perhaps it was the endocannabinoids produced during the longer runs in particular. Perhaps it was more time in nature (I spend a lot of my outdoor time walking or running in our local prairie and woods), which is known to be good for the mood. Perhaps it was the extra “together time” Jackie and I got on our very long walks. Perhaps it was the solitude of walks and runs by myself, providing space for meditation.

Whatever it was, I miss it in the winter, and I fixate on a vitamin D deficiency as a possible culprit. Maybe I’ll up my supplement dose. Of course, I won’t do just that. I’ll use my Happy Light™. I’ll go for long walks in the cold and snow. I’ll get out in the prairie and the woods. I’ll try to cover all the possibilities. But I’ll keep taking my vitamin D.

Continuing our very long walks

Since our big Kal-Haven trail walk in June, we’ve continued to walk, but we haven’t gone on many long walks—and in particular, haven’t gone on any very long walks.

What’s the boundary between ordinary long walks and very long walks? I choose to set an arbitrary dividing line of 14 miles. This is because Jackie and I, by merest happenstance, turn out to each remember having walked 14 miles as our “longest hike ever” in the years before we’d met.

It was with all that in mind that I suggested a couple of days ago that we should go for a 15-mile walk today.

I had in mind more than just ticking off the “very long walk” box. With winter coming, I want to be sure I don’t start thinking that ordinary winter weather is a reason not to go for a long walk. It was chilly this weekend, so I thought a good opportunity to ease our way in to walking in the cold. There are also scheduling issues that’ll make it hard to get a very long walk in during the next week, so it seemed today was our big chance.

It was a wonderful day for a walk—beautiful, clear, sunny weather, crisp in the morning, but reaching 60 in afternoon. We walked up First street to the research park, then turned east and walked along the south end of the Arboretum and through Orchard Downs, before turning south again so we could take a turn through Meadowbrook Park. Then we headed back north along Vine as far as downtown Urbana, so we could have lunch at Crane Alley. (Good beer. I had a Deschutes cinder cone red on nitro. Jackie had an ESB, although I forget which one.) From there we headed west toward campus, headed back south to have coffee at Espresso Royale, then meandered through campus, crossed the railroad tracks and Route 45 to head south along the Boulware path, stopping at Schnucks to get some half&half and tomato paste.

The total distance came in at 14.62 miles, comfortably over the line into “very long walk” territory by my standards.

I didn’t take many pictures, but I did get this one of Jackie in front of the Alpha Sig frat house, Chuck McCaffrey’s old fraternity. This would have been along about mile 10 of our walk.

Jackie in front of the Alpha Sig frat house (Chuck's fraternity).
Jackie in front of the Alpha Sig frat house (Chuck’s fraternity).

Oh, and I wanted to mention that I wore my new boots! I bought a pair of Lems Boulder Boots, minimalist-style boots that I got with an eye to being my main winter boot this season. I got them five or six weeks ago, and have worn them as my everyday boot for most of that time, but this was their first try on a very long walk. Fortunately, they worked great.

Dayhiking the Kal-Haven Trail

Two years we trained for this particular very long hike, without getting it together to make the trip to Kalamazoo during the few summer weeks when the days are long enough to through-hike the Kal-Haven Trail in a day. This year we made it happen.

Two years we trained for this particular very long walk, without getting it together to make the trip to Kalamazoo during the few summer weeks when the days are long enough to through-hike the Kal-Haven Trail in a day. This year we made it happen.

At the trailheadWe meant to be at the trailhead by dawn which was 6:05 AM, but breakfast and final checking of gear took a little longer than we’d hoped. It was almost one hour later when we posed for pictures in front of the sign. We were walking just a few minutes later. Jackie started Endomondo at 7:06.

My brother, Steven Brewer, had offered to drive support, and did a great job. He drove us to the trailhead, met us at four or five points along the way to provide fresh, cold bottles of water, laid out a sumptuous, bounteous feast for lunch, and took pictures along the way. (He has written his own account of the walk.)

We made excellent time through the morning, clocking out a whole series of sub-18-minute miles, and reached Gobles a few minutes before noon.

The crushed limestone surface was great—smooth, level, hard enough for efficient walking, gentler than concrete. (There was one stretch in Bloomingdale that had been resurfaced with asphalt, which was much harder on the feet.)

photo_18363558004_oThere was one downside to the surface, though. Almost as it it were designed that way, my tread caught the limestone and pitched it forwards into my boots. I had to stop every few miles and shake a teaspoon of limestone grit out of my boots.

Still great for walking on, and kinda pretty.

I had made sandwiches, and Steven had gotten all sorts of stuff to go with them—german potato salad, red bananas, hummus, flat bread, raspberries, raw veggies, and brownies for desert.

Trailside FeastBehold our awesome lunch, served trailside, complete with cloth napkins.

It took some minutes to loosen up after we got started going again, but we were almost matching our pace, carrying on with sub-20-minute miles right along until we hit mile 25.

I was still feeling pretty good then. We had slowed down a bit, but as we passed mile 27, I tweeted, “Has blown through marathon distance and is pressing for 33.5 miles. South Haven here we come!”

Pretty much just about then, though, I started dragging a bit. We had walked farther than we’ve ever walked before, and the last few miles were tough.

We pressed on, walking at perhaps a 22-minute pace. Jackie held up better than I did, as you can perhaps tell from this picture, taken very close to the end of the trail. Steven had suggested that we smile, and both Jackie and I did our best:

Approaching South HavenAt that point it was merely a matter of trudging on. We wrapped up at 33.41 miles as measured by Endomondo, and Steven popped us into the car and drove us to the restaurant for a celebratory feast.

At about that point, my body seemed to have lost the ability to thermoregulate—I was shivering so hard my teeth were chattering in the slightly cool air of the South Haven evening.

Jackie wrapped her arms around me to keep me warm, and Steven got this picture as well:

18964591362_299df20f06_oAfter a good night’s sleep, a big breakfast, and a nap after lunch, I think we’re all largely recovered. I stiffen up a bit if I sit still, but am not really even very sore. In the morning we got out to play Ingress, and I was able to walk around pretty much as usual. I’ll take at least one more day off before I go for a run, but basically I feel fine.

We have no plans for even longer walks, but we’ll certainly keep walking, perhaps expanding to multi-day through-hikes of the sort where your gear is schlepped for you from B&B to B&B.

It was a great experience!

Our last few tune-up hikes

We’ve decided not to do another even longer walk before we do the big hike of the Kal-Haven trail. (Coming up later this month!)

I’d had it in my head that we’d do a 30-mile walk, but the more I thought about it, the less it appealed. Mainly, it seemed like it would make the main event less special. (“Oh. We walked 3.5 miles longer than our longest training walk. Big deal.”)

We will do one more walk of close to marathon distance, somewhere in the 20–25 mile range, but besides that, we’ve been doing some shorter walks of a more rugged nature, hoping to address some deficiencies that cropped up on the marathon-length walk.

In particular, I noticed that toward the end of really long walks, my hips get tired and seem kind of wobbly when I walk over uneven ground. I thought one way to address that, besides doing more longer walks, would be to find some especially uneven ground to hike on. That’s why we went to Fox Ridge and later to Forest Glen—the trails would let us get in some longish walks with some slightly different sources of stress than just more longer.

Today we hiked at Allerton Park, doing a bit over 6 miles of some not-too-rugged trails. We’d had it in our heads to do 6 more miles on the other side of the Sangamon River, but decided to skip it due to schedule constraints—we would have had to rush to get home in time to got to my Esperanto meeting and the farmers market this evening.

Besides the hike, we also took half an hour or so to do some taiji in the Fu Dog garden. That was very nice.

Once again, I got to put my parkour practice to use.

There’s a path that leads—used to lead—to the back of the mansion, and there used to be an iron spiral staircase that got you up to the top of a retaining wall the separates the grounds (at one level) from the steep slope down into the forest and the Sangamon.

We hiked up that trail—what’s left of it—only to find that the iron staircase has been removed.

The wall there would be beyond our capability to climb, but just around the corner (separating the mansion grounds from the pond), the wall is shorter—about chest high.

It’s been a long time, but I just did what I would have done as a boy facing a wall of that height—I put my palms on it, then jumped up high enough that I had enough leverage to go ahead and push myself up onto the wall.

Jackie found that she couldn’t jump high enough to get to where she could push herself on up, so she reached over the top of the wall to where she could hook her fingers over the far side. Then she just scrabbled up as best she could, her boots sliding on the bricks, but catching enough that she managed to get herself up onto the wall.

We were both pretty pleased with ourselves. I doubt if we could have climbed that wall five years ago.

I neglected to get a picture of the wall from today, but here’s a picture from a few years ago, looking across from the far side of the pond (click to embiggen):

allerton mansion retaining wallWe were way over on the right, and our climb was from just above the pond. (There are two walls there. We just climbed the lower wall. There’s a path at that level, and then a second retaining wall up to the level of the mansion grounds proper.)

On an unrelated note, today seemed to be Path Crossing Day for the snails. I scarcely took a step down the path without seeing a snail.

Here’s the first snail I spotted:

trail snail at allerton parkIsn’t he a handsome fellow?

Achievement unlocked: Marathon distance

Over the past three years, Jackie and I have done a lot of walks where the distance came in at around 20 miles, but we’d never actually reached 26.2. Yesterday we did.

In many ways, this was just another training walk for our planned Kal-Haven trail walk—which is why we hadn’t hit this distance before: We’re much more concerned with not hurting ourselves before the big walk than we are with hitting any arbitrary distance in advance.

Still, I’m glad to have finally walked 26.2 miles, because now I don’t have to feel like an imposter when I wear my rain jacket:

me-in-marathon-rain-jacket
Me in my marathon rain jacket. Photo by Jackie Brewer.

I got this jacket long ago—at least 15 years ago, maybe longer. I remember finding a gore tex rain jacket in the Sierra Trading Post catalog at about an 80% discount. I think it was so cheap mostly because it doesn’t have a hood, which is a deficiency for a rain jacket, but the large marathon graphic on the back may also have put off some people who were not marathoners.

I snapped one up immediately. Only after I had secured mine did I share the catalog with a friend at work who I thought would also be pleased with a cheap gore tex jacket. (He bought one too. For years we were occasional twinsies on warm rainy days.)

All these years it has been my main rain jacket, and all that time I’ve been just a little uncomfortable wearing a jacket so prominently marked as being for marathoners. Now, finally, I can quit worrying about it.

We were walking rather than running, so we were on the road a long time—almost ten and a half hours. (The people who win marathons run them in a little over 2 hours; middle-of-the-pack runners tend to finish in 3–4 hours.)

It was a great walk, although we were feeling pretty tired the last few miles. We went up to our old neighborhood and walked around our old apartment complex. (It looks a bit more empty than when we were there.) We walked up the Greenbelt Bikeway, then headed east to our summer place. (It looks exactly the same as it did when we lived there last year.) Then we walked through the water amenities at Second Street, and onward to Busey Woods. Then down Race Street to Orchard Downs and across through the arboretum and the research park. We went north to Florida to cross the railroad tracks, then headed south along the Boulware Trail and on into Savoy. We went west just a bit to take the path along Prospect down to Curtis and thence to home, taking a slightly long route through Winfield Village (with a tiny diversion into our prairie) to be sure we hit the target mileage.

In the end we went 26.4 miles. Here’s the Endomondo data:

More long walks

Jackie and I have continued to work up toward being able to take our planned very long walk in mid-June.

Our previous outing was planned for 15 miles, but we actually did about 17. For yesterday’s outing we came closer to hitting our target distance—planned for 20 miles and came in at 20.61 miles.

It was a pretty good walk. The temperature was a bit cool, but stayed steady for the duration, so we weren’t having to adjust clothing repeatedly.

We walked through Robeson Park and then to our old neighborhood where we had lunch at El Toro. Then we went up the Greenbelt Bikeway and visited our old garden plot near Parkland College. Then we angled our way to downtown Champaign, passing near both our summer place and our winter palace, pausing for coffee at Pekara Bakery. Finally, we walked to the University of Illinois Arboretum (where the cherry trees were just blooming) and then headed home through south campus and the research park.

We held up pretty well, perhaps because the distance was only 3 miles beyond our previous long walk. My plan is that we’ll do 26.2 miles for our next walk, sometime towards the end of April, but we’ll see how things go. We have time in our schedule if we want to take that jump in two steps.

We haven’t been getting in as many of the medium walks as I’d hoped, mostly because of problematic early-spring weather. With the weather shifting to more of a late-spring pattern, I’m hoping that won’t be a problem going forward.

One thing I’d like to do is start including some faster miles in those medium-length walks. We can walk fast enough, but we tend to slow down late in the walk. That’s fine, but if we have very many miles at 20+ minutes per mile, it will make for a very long day on the Kal-Haven trail.

Here’s the details on this walk:

And here are the details for the previous one:

Jock or geek

Jackie recently expressed a concern related to my expanding interest in fitness: “We were both nerds together at Motorola, but now you seem to be turning into a jock.”

I assured her that she was mistaken, pointing out that I have no new interest in team sports, nor in spectator sports—two key markers for jocks in my mind.

But I did see how she might be concerned. I was putting a lot of time, effort, and attention into this fitness stuff. I was also writing about it and taking about it a lot. (Enough that I felt I had to move some of the writing to my Esperanto-language blog, where it would bore fewer people.)

Most recently, I’ve been looking at some Natural Movement stuff, in particular at MovNat. They have roots in the same source as parkour, but without the urban bias. They also have a broader perspective—parkour is all about getting from point A to point B, dealing with obstacles as efficiently as possible. MovNat is about rediscovering a broader range of human movement skills—not just running, jumping, climbing and balancing, but also throwing and catching and swimming and diving and fighting.

Aware of the fact that I’m in that brief phase where some new thing is all shiny and interesting, I try not to spend all my time talking about it, but I still talk about it enough to bore any ordinary person. (Jackie recently let me go in for some minutes about one of these things and then said, “You should write something about this on your Esperanto blog!”)

Yesterday, while we were out on our long walk, I was once again going on about this or that aspect of movement skills. Jackie listened patiently, then said, “I take it back. You’re not turning into a jock. You’re becoming a geek about parkour.”

We were both reassured.

Another long walk

Today was our nicest day of the year so far, and Jackie wanted to do another long walk, so that’s what we did.

It seemed kinda early for a long walk, just 4 days after our last long walk. It was also kinda soon after my little parkour adventure yesterday. But the weather was great.

I had rather expected to be too sore after yesterday’s parkour—and I had noticed in the night that my core muscles were pretty sore.

Did you know that your core muscles are critical to turning over in bed? If not, I invite you to spend an hour on quadrupedal motion, precisions, and vaults, after which (unless you’re already a highly trained traceur) I’m confident you’ll be able to observe the fact for yourself. But when I got up, I discovered that I was otherwise fine. My feet, ankles, knees and hips were all fine, as were my calves and thighs. So, if Jackie wanted to do a long walk, I was okay with that.

We did it on kind of a whim, so we didn’t have a route planned, but that was fine: We just winged it. Today was a taiji day, so we started by walking to taiji. After taiji we walked to campus, where we decided to eat at Ambar India on campus—it’s a buffet, so we wouldn’t have leftovers to deal with. Then we walked to the Nutritional Food Store, the only place we know of to get freshly ground peanut butter. Then we walked home.

It came in at just under 13 miles, but we were tired enough and sore enough to not want to walk another couple of miles around home just to hit the 15-mile mark. We’ll do that later in the month, closer to the planned time. (Instead we sat out on the patio and drank beers. It was the first day warm enough for patio sitting this year, and we enjoyed it a lot.)

Here’s the details on the walk:

Running, walking, etc.

I went for my first outdoor run of the year on Sunday. It was the first day that the paths were clear enough of ice and snow to make it possible.

Although the paths were mostly clear of ice and snow, there was a lot of melt water, flowing across the path in hundreds of rivulets. I found myself integrating into my run hundreds of small leaps, in a (partially successful) effort to keep my feet dry.

I was well aware of the leaps as I did them—I remember making a conscious effort to refrain from favoring one side over the other, trying to execute each leap with the most natural foot leading, based on my current point in my stride as I approached.

For some reason, all those leaps were not the first thing that came to mind the next day, when my calves were as sore as they have ever been. I was just sad at how much more out-of-shape I must be than I had realized, to be so crippled by a simple three-mile run. (They hurt a lot more than when I actually tore a calf muscle a couple years ago.) It was only late Tuesday, when I was heading to teach my taiji class, that I jumped over a similar stream of water in a parking lot—one calf screaming when I launched, the other screaming when I landed—that I realized that it was the leaping that had done such a number on me.

With that reassurance I felt much better, and by Wednesday my calves were feeling much better, which was good because Wednesday Jackie and I went on our first long walk of the year, part of the series of long walks we’re taking to prepare for the 33.5-mile Kal-Haven Trail walk that we’ve been meaning to take for a couple of years now. We’re quite determined that this will be the year.

For our first long walk we walked to taiji, attended our class, and then walked on to downtown Urbana and had lunch at Crane Alley (good beer). After lunch we walked back through campus. Having exceeded our planned distance (we wanted to do 10 miles and got in 11.5), we caught a bus at the south end of campus to go the rest of the way home. (The walk home from the south end of campus isn’t far, but there’s no good footpath. I think during the summer, when it’s possible to walk along the side of the farmer’s fields, it’ll be a fine walking route, but yesterday it would have been too wet and muddy.)

It was warm enough that I was able to expose my forearms to the sun!

My training plan, such as it is, covers just the long walks—we’ll include many shorter walks in our daily activity, and plenty of medium walks as well. But the long walk plan looks like this:

  • first-half March: 10 miles — done
  • second-half March: 15 miles
  • first-half April: 20 miles
  • second-half April: 26.2 miles (because why not?)
  • first-half May: 30 miles

The main event is planned for roughly June 18th, but it will depend on the exact schedule of when we go to visit my dad and what the weather looks like those days. I figure we’ll be fit enough to do a very long walk of the planned distance any time after mid-May, so that gives us a month’s cushion to allow for any glitches.

I’m kind of excited about possible medium-length walks from our new house, here south of town. All of south campus is reasonably close, including, for example, the Arboretum with its cherry trees, which should be in bloom in about a month. It might make sense to walk there several times in early April, to keep up with the progress of the cherry blossoms, and take the opportunity for both haiku and photographs.

The most obvious way to walk (starting with the exact route from south Campus that I rejected yesterday) would be about 3 miles each way, the first half along the sides of country roads. As I say, it should be an entirely satisfactory route anytime the ground isn’t too wet.

Here’s the details for Sunday’s run:

And here’s the details for Wednesday’s walk:

Projects for winter and spring

We have a bunch of things we’re hoping to do this year, and most of them require some amount of preparation—preparation which will have to occur in the winter and spring.

My plans stretch out to the end of July, because the last week of July I’ll be in Lille, France to attend the 100th Universala Kongreso de Esperanto.

As preparation for that, I really want to spend half an hour almost every day practicing my Esperanto. That should be plenty—I already read and write the language and I’ve attended international Esperanto gatherings in the past. But just a bit of practice listening to spoken Esperanto (podcasts and such) and a bit of practice actually conversing (with my local Esperanto group, and such other folks as I can find) will go a long way toward making attending this kongreso a rich and satisfying experience.

About a month before that will be the solstice, and right around then—second half of June or very early July—is the only good chance do the Kal-Haven trail walk that we’ve hoped to do each of the last two years. (In those weeks because only then are the days long enough to finish the walk in daylight.)

As preparation for that, we need to go on several walks each week, including a very long walk roughly every other week, working our way up to being able to walk the 33.5 mile trail.

Several months earlier—just one month from now—we’re going to have a little party for people to come see our townhouse. We’ve fixed the date as February 1st, and are thinking of it as a celebration of Groundhog’s Day Eve, or  Imbolc, if you prefer. Invitations are forthcoming. If you don’t get one, it is surely an oversight—let me know.

As preparation for that, we need to finish unpacking!

Without a specific deadline, but very soon now, I want to finish revising my novel so I can get it out to first readers.

As preparation for that, I need to spend an hour or two every morning writing.

Normally at this time of year we’d also be planning our garden, but Jackie has convinced me that working a garden plot this summer will be more than we can manage.